When a couple comes into our office for Christian Marriage Counseling, frequently, the moment they sit down the Blame Game begins while they hurl shaming and blaming assaults at one another across the couch as if they were in a snowball fight. Each partner comes into therapy and outwardly or covertly blames the problem on their partner. They each have a secret wish… If only their partner would change. If HE would change, then they would communicate better. If SHE would change, then there would be peace in the house. Sadly, I have never heard anyone come into counseling saying "I" need to change to make my marriage healthier.
Does the story of this couple sound familiar? If we look back to the book of Genesis (3:12), after the fall, we will see Adam blaming Eve. “It was the WOMEN you gave me.” Adam then blamed God. “It was the women YOU put here. And then of course, Eve blamed the serpent. “The serpent deceived me and I ate.” Adam and Eve then ran, hid and covered up instead of taking responsibility and owning up to what they had done. Mike and Marilyn, and you and I are not any different. It has been in our nature to blame one another and hide our imperfections and weaknesses from one another since the fall. However, taking ownership and responsibility for our mistakes and sins is a huge part of stopping the blame cycle and loving one another.
John Gottman, a psychologist and researcher from UC Berkeley interviewed over 2,000 couples and wrote the book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. His research found that couples who get divorced have a 3 to 1 ratio of more criticism in their communication on a daily basis than other couples who stay happily married. Couples can have hurt and disagreements over any topic such as money, sex, kids, division of labor, hobbies or in-laws. The key to compromise and negotiation on these differences and impasses is how the couple communicates their different feelings and perspectives without blaming one another.
Jesus states, “take the log out of your own eye before you take the speck out of your ‘partners’ eye so that you may see more clearly” (Matt. 7:5). Taking the log out of our own eye requires humility. And it can also be painful! While driving in your car have you ever dug in your glove department or purse, rushing to find your sunglasses because of the gleam from the sunlight coming in through the window? With relief, you put the glasses on only to find you still can’t see clearly. The glasses are smudged, dirty and your vision is murky at best. You then realize you are looking through lenses that are not cleaned or clear. Unclear vision can cause us to misinterpret and misperceive that which can harm others. We must be willing to look at our own behaviors, thinking, motivations and heart before we so quickly jump to judging others. As we see ourselves more clearly, with our own sinfulness, we will have more empathy, compassion and grace before we perform eye surgery on another.
“Examine my heart, Oh Lord, and see if there is any sinful way in me.” This is a beautiful verse that we call the “Examine me, Change me” principle. We can’t change our spouse or anyone else. We often cry, scream, withdraw, manipulate, advise, and kick to try and get another to change. However, we all have free will and free choice and most of the time it does not motivate our spouse toward growth. There is, however, something we can change, and that is ourselves. We can change ourselves, with God’s power, and that is hopeful!
We have to be willing to listen to God and allow the Holy Spirit to whisper to us about our part in our relationship conflicts. He will also speak to us through His Word, the Bible. God will use our spouse and children more than anyone else to bring transformation and sanctification into our lives if we are willing to listen and examine ourselves. Areas our partners want us to change usually make us more whole, complete, and mature in areas that need emotional and spiritual growth and development.
Questions to ask ourselves are what am I doing to contribute to this problem in our relationship? Am I willing to be 100% responsible for my reactions regardless of my spouse changing or doing their part? A humble and responsible heart is open to hearing the pain it has caused to another, receiving advice from others, and is not defensive. In James, we are told “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed”. We need to confess to God and our partner when we hurt them and then ask God for the power and strength to change us. Taking responsibility for our own growth instead of blaming and criticizing our spouse will increase the bond, trust, and love in our relationship.
Allen Haley, M.Div., P.C. and Terri Haley, M.F.T.